“Horsefeathers,” says Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages founder
NEW YORK CITY, N.Y.––Voters For Animal Rights was quick to declare victory on October 30, 2019 when the New York City Council passed a bill banning the sale of foie gras from force-fed ducks and geese and a bill creating a Mayor’s Office of Animal Welfare within the city government.
New Yorkers for Clean, Livable, and Safe Streets (NYCLASS) on the same evening hailed the passage of a new regulation governing when carriage horses may work in and around Central Park.
But Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages founder Elizabeth Forel, who may have more political experience than any two of the Voters for Animal Rights and NYCLASS board members, on November 4, 2019 warned the animal advocacy community that they might have been sold a bill of goods in accepting any of the three bills in final form.
United Poultry Concerns is also concerned
Nor is Forel alone in her public skepticism.
Exulted Voters for Animal Rights founder and president Allie Feldman Taylor of the foie gras ban, “This bill will make New York City the largest city in the world to ban one of the most barbaric and torturous food products on earth.”
Taylor called it “our signature bill, passed after a ten-month-long campaign.”
Indeed the New York City foie gras ban attracted worldwide attention, including in Paris, the global hub of foie gras consumption.
But United Poultry Concerns founder Karen Davis on November 2, 2019, expressed reservations, after several days of thinking it over.
“The ban, which is set to take effect three years after it becomes law, in 2022, provides an opportunity for farms to produce foie gras by other means [than force-feeding],” Davis noted.
“Alternative bird-abusing methods”
Davis cited other production methods that most animal advocates would find abhorrent. For example, at least one producer in Spain induces wild migratory geese to over-eat, then kills them in nocturnal ambush. National Public Radio spotlighted this practice as an alternative to force-feeding in 2016.
“This does not mean to imply that the New York City ban on force-feeding is false or worthless,” Davis concluded. “By the same token, activists need to be aware of, and ready to challenge, alternative bird-abusing methods for producing this product.”
Warned Forel, “The bill does not actually ban foie gras. Instead it bans any product that is force-fed to ducks or geese with the intent of fattening or enlarging their liver. The crucial words here are ‘force-fed.’
“Expect the companies that produce foie gras to go to court to try to overturn this bill. In 2006,” Forel recalled, foie gras was banned in Chicago,” but the ban “was repealed two years later. California banned it in 2012. That ban is still in effect, although there have been legal challenges.
“But this is the really sad part: this will give the farms that produce foie gras the opportunity to retool. Do you think they will retool to make a vegan fois gras? Not likely.”
First to the courthouse
Voters For Animal Rights itself, however, was first to the courthouse. Explained Verena Dobnik of Associated Press, “A day after the New York City Council voted to ban the sale of foie gras, Voters for Animal Rights sued the biggest U.S. distributor of the French delicacy for alleged inhumane treatment of ducks.”
Filed in Brooklyn federal court, Dobnik reported, the lawsuit accuses “Union, New Jersey-based D’Artagnan, Inc. and D’Artagnan, LLC of ‘deceptive marketing and advertising of foie gras products,’ made from fattened duck livers.
“The company says birds at two farms outside New York City are fed in a humane way through a plastic tube workers slip down their throats. Hudson Valley Foie Gras and La Belle collectively raise 350,000 birds a year, selling the livers for about $15 million. Each worker feeds hundreds of ducks a day, squirting soft corn-based feed into each one through the beak every eight hours.”
Office of Animal Welfare
The bill to create a separate office of animal welfare, Forel recalled, “has a long history and did not just pop up with some of the groups who are claiming credit. In 1997, the Shelter Reform Action Committee, headed by long time activist Gary Kaskel sponsored a ballot initiative to create a separate department of animal affairs. Although we collected almost 100,000 signatures on our special petitions,” Forel wrote, the initiative “was killed by then-mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who was not favorable to animals.
“The Shelter Reform Action Committee [SRAC] continued under the leadership of Esther Koslow after Gary moved to California,” Forel continued, “and I went on to other things, although always keeping an eye on this issue. So I defer to SRAC’s comments.”
The Shelter Reform Action Committee perspective: “Substituting ‘office’ for ‘department’ doomed what would have been a game changer for NYC animals. The amended bill simply acknowledged the reality that two people inside Mayor Bill de Blasio’s ‘Community Affairs Unit’ have acted as liaisons between the Mayor’s Office and the animal advocacy community. They worked behind the scenes to try to help animals.
Will lack power, funding, staff
“Under the new bill, they’ll be called an ‘office.’ But they’ll continue to lack the power, funding, and staff that city departments possess.
“For example, they won’t be able to inspect animal shelters, pet shops, horse stables, etc. They won’t be able to issue fines or close down offending operators. They won’t have a staff of experts to investigate dangers to wildlife and pets. They won’t fund improvements to the city’s animal shelter system.
“Rather, they will continue as liaisons and hope that whoever is in the Mayor’s office will follow their advice.”
The Shelter Reform Action Committee predicted that eventually “the Department of Health,” which now has jurisdiction over animal affairs, “will to revert to its usual indifference to animal welfare. And the ‘Office of Animal Welfare’ will be powerless to help.”
“Carriage Horse Heat Relief Bill”
The “Carriage Horse Heat Relief Bill,” pushed by NYCLASS, was predictably opposed by carriage horse drivers as “unscientific.”
NYCLASS executive director Edita Birnkrant, however, told media that the bill incorporates the recommendations of the 9,000-member American Association of Equine Practitioners.
Similar measures were advanced by the Carriage Horse Action Committee from 1986 to 1994.
Commented Forel, who formed the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages in 2006, “It will now be illegal for carriage horses to be worked when the temperature is at least 80 degrees and the heat index (combination of temperature and humidity) reaches 150.
“Might help some horses”
“This will probably shut down the industry for several more days a year. While it might help some horses, it will have no effect on all the other problems concerning this business––like stalls that are less than half the size recommended by experts; no turn-out to pasture, which horses must have on a daily basis for their well-being; traveling one and a half to two miles back and forth to their stables in traffic; no real law enforcement. No oversight on what happens to the horses when their owner decides to get rid of them.
“From 2005 to 2013,” Forel said, “no fewer than 529 horses fell off the Department of Health’s horse registry. Some may have gotten a good home, but information on the number who went to auction and possibly slaughter is not available.
“We have never supported a regulatory bill,” Forel emphasized. “While it may slightly help the horses for a short time, it is never a solution.”
Agreement on anti-bird-catching bill
NYCLASS and the Coalition to Ban Horse-Drawn Carriages have clashed over the value of carriage horse-related legislation several times before, but agreed in 2016 that de Blasio had double-crossed horse advocates by first pledging to have carriage horses off the streets on “day one” if elected mayor, then allowing the city Department of Consumer Affairs to authorize the drivers to collect higher fares.
NYCLASS and Forel also agreed that a newly passed bill to prohibit capturing wild birds “seems to do what it says,” as Forel put it.
“It includes all wild birds,” Forel explained. “For many years, pigeons have been captured––often netted [by private contractors]––and taken to pigeon shoots such as those in Pennsylvania. These shoots are a vile example of man’s inhumanity to animal.”
Says the bill itself, “This bill would prohibit non-exempt individuals from taking or attempting to take any wild bird. Exempt individuals include law enforcement employees or other City employees acting in the scope of their duties, a person authorized by law or permit, or a person attempting to rescue a wild bird. Any person who unlawfully takes a wild bird is subject to a misdemeanor and a fine of no more than $1,000.”